Esotericism (VIII): Ouspensky & Amis: A different Christianity

Esotericism (VIII): Ouspensky & Amis: A different Christianity

- in Esotericism


1. R. Amis also follows Ouspensky’s “psychological” method in his work A Different Christianity (1995/2003 Chicago/South Brent (U.K.) Praxis).  As he exhibits knowledge of the Gnostic texts and actually refers to The Gospel of Thomas (in pages xix, 32,73), one might at first think that he would be treating the Gnostic aspect of Christianity.

He does not.  Instead of actually examining (some of) the Nag Hammadi Gnostic texts, now readily available in J. Robinson’s The Nag Hammadi Library (1988, 3rd ed. with many reprints), RA confines himself to the comments of Clement of Alexandria and those of a modern academic, M. Smith, on Mark’s putative “secret Gospel”, which may have existed but which cannot now be traced anywhere!  This is hardly the “psychological method”!

He seems to think (p 105) highly of Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyon (end cent CE), not realising that much of what this Church prelate criticised may have been a lot closer to what Jesus taught than his own beliefs.

2. However, RA attempts and partly succeeds to present the esoteric aspect of Christianity as it may be found in its doctrinal/theological and practical/mystical developments over the last 1900 years, especially in the Eastern Church of Greece and Russia.

RA makes some excursions into the (later) Vedic tradition of India but these are tentative and limited (pp 156, 192) perhaps because he does not know it.

As he takes for granted the veracity of the totality of the Four Canonical Gospels as God-inspired documents and shows no great interest in what Jesus might actually have taught, I shall not deal further with his book.

3. However, I do concur fully with his appreciation of the spiritual treasures in the mystical tradition of Eastern Christianity.

The official Eastern Orthodox Church (Greece, Balkans, Russia) in its general character is no better and no worse than other Christian denominations but much of its monastic life (especially on Athos and the Meteora and some places in Russia) has been exemplary in fostering spirituality and producing many saintly figures over the centuries.

Western monasticism, of course, did much the same.

But inspired monasticism with its severe disciplines and practices is quite different from the official Church with its rigid doctrines, mechanical rituals, its squables over property and power and its often ignorant, greedy prelates.

4. Finally, the fact remains that most of what Jesus enjoins in the FCG is quite explicit.  There is nothing enigmatic when he urges the disciples to surpass the Pharisees (Mth 5:20) in piety, goodness and self-control, or when he says (Mth 5:27-8) that whoever looks at a woman with desire already commits adultery. True, common people cannot follow such commandments in their life; they were given for prepared disciples.

The difficulty is not in underatanding such plain sayings (however superficially) but in following them, in implementing them in daily life. We neither remember them nor have the desire and energy to do so!

That is precicely what Ouspensky or Amis, applying their much-vaunted “esoteric” approaches, should have done in their examination of Christianity: instead of presenting with self-satisfaction their nebulous expatiations, that did not really explain anything much, they should have separated what Jesus taught directly his disciples from what he gave as ethics for the common masses.

I shall continue in the next paper with the esoteric aspect itself.

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